The Joe Harriott Quintet: Swings High

In 1967, the Jamaican saxophonist, noted for his avant-garde and cross-genre jazz, reconnected with swing and standards


For various reasons, this was not the happiest of recording sessions for Harriott and co., most of them being related to non-musical matters, including studio owner Vic Keary not exactly being a bosom buddy of Doug Dobell, who had set up the date. Also, the end results were not released until nearly two and a half years after the event on the Melodisc label rather than Doug’s own 77 records.

Swings High was almost a throwback for the saxophonist, a look back to his hard-bop stomping ground after his experimentation with free form and with the fusion of Indo-Jazz, partnering John Meyer. Some welcomed this backward look when the music finally emerged, whilst others thought it to be a retrograde moment in Harriott’s career.

There is no question that the leader played with his normal passion on this occasion, in the company of musicians he had worked with extensively in the past, relishing the programme of his own originals and an interesting choice of complementary items. Trumpeter Stu Hamer, replacing Shake Keane from the original quintet, was a good choice to share the front line and the rhythm section carried all the attributes of a threesome where each was familiar with each other’s work.

Harriott plays with a confidence the gifted always display, being particularly effective on Johnny Mandel’s A Time For Love and the Burke/Van Heusen opus Polka Dots And Moonbeams, much loved by many a jazzman.

If the jury might still be out regarding the merits of Swings High, it’s still important to have it available again.

(1) Tuesday Morning Swing; A Time For Love: The Rake; Blues In C; Shepherd’s Serenade; (2) Polka Dots And Moonbeams; (1) Strollin’ South; Just Goofin’ (Count Twelve) (39.07)
(1) Harriott (as); Stu Hamer (t); Pat Smythe (p); Coleridge Goode (b); Phil Seamen (d). London, 20 June 1967. (2) as (1) but omit Hamer.
Cadillac SGC/MELCD 203